Frank McCourt

Francis McCourt (August 19, 1930  July 19, 2009) was an Irish-American teacher and writer. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his book Angela's Ashes, a tragicomic memoir of the misery and squalor of his childhood.[1]

Frank McCourt
McCourt at a New York City Housing Works bookstore in 2007
Francis McCourt

(1930-08-19)August 19, 1930
Brooklyn, New York, United States
DiedJuly 19, 2009(2009-07-19) (aged 78)
Manhattan, New York, United States
Alma mater
OccupationMemoirist, writer, teacher
  • Alberta Small
    (m. 1961; div. 1979)
  • Cheryl Floyd
    (m. 1984; div. 1989)
  • Ellen Frey (m. 1994)

Early life and education

Frank McCourt was born in New York City's Brooklyn borough, on 19 August 1930 to Malachy McCourt (1901–1985), who falsely claimed to have been in the IRA during the Irish War of Independence, and Irish Catholic mother Angela Sheehan (1908–1981) from Limerick.[2][3][4] Frank McCourt lived in New York with his parents and four younger siblings: Malachy, born in 1931; twins Oliver and Eugene, born in 1932; and a younger sister, Margaret, who died just 21 days after birth, in 1934.[3] In the midst of the Great Depression, the family moved back to Ireland. Unable to find steady work in Belfast or Dublin and beset by Malachy Senior's alcoholism, the McCourt family returned to their mother's native Limerick, where they sank even deeper into poverty.[3] They lived in a rain-soaked slum, the parents and children sharing one bed together, McCourt's father drinking away what little money they had. His father, being from the north and bearing a northern accent, found this trait to be an added stressor to finding a job. The twins Oliver and Eugene died in early childhood due to the squalor of their circumstances, and two more boys were born: Michael, who later lived in San Francisco (where he was called the "Dean of Bartenders") until his death in September 2015; and Alphonsus, who published a memoir of his own and died in 2016. Frank McCourt himself nearly died of typhoid fever when he was 11.

McCourt related that when he was 11, his father left Limerick to find work in the factories of wartime Coventry, England, rarely sending back money to support his family. Eventually McCourt recounts that Malachy Senior abandoned Frank's mother altogether, leaving her to raise her four surviving children, on the edge of starvation, without any source of income.[3] Frank's school education ended at age 13,[3] when the Irish Christian Brothers rejected him. Frank then held odd jobs and stole bread and milk in an effort to provide for his mother and three surviving brothers.


Early career

In October 1949, at the age of 19, McCourt left Ireland. He had saved money from various jobs including as a telegram delivery boy[3] and stolen from one of his employers, a moneylender, after her death.[5] He took a boat from Cork to New York City. A priest he had met on the ship got him a room to stay in and his job at New York City's Biltmore Hotel. He earned about $26 a week and sent $10 of it to his mother in Limerick. Brothers Malachy and Michael followed him to New York and so, later, did their mother Angela.[3] In 1951, McCourt was drafted during the Korean War and sent to Bavaria for two years initially training dogs, then as a clerk. Upon his discharge from the US Army, he returned to New York City, where he held a series of jobs on docks, in warehouses, and in banks.[3]


Using his GI Bill education benefits, McCourt talked his way into New York University by claiming he was intelligent and read a great deal; they admitted him on one year's probation provided he maintained a B average. He graduated in 1957 from New York University with a bachelor's degree in English. He taught at six New York schools, including McKee Vocational and Technical High School, Ralph R. McKee CTE High School in Staten Island, New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn, Stuyvesant High School, Seward Park High School, Washington Irving High School, and the High School of Fashion Industries, all in Manhattan. In 1967, he earned a master's degree at Brooklyn College, and in the late 1960s he spent 18 months at Trinity College in Dublin, failing to earn his PhD before returning to New York City.

In a 1997 New York Times essay, McCourt wrote about his experiences teaching immigrant mothers at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn.[6]


McCourt won the annual Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography (1997)[7] and one of the annual National Book Critics Circle Awards (1996)[8] for his bestselling 1996 memoir, Angela's Ashes, which details his impoverished childhood from Brooklyn to Limerick. Three years later, a movie version of Angela's Ashes opened to mixed reviews.[9] Northern Irish actor Michael Legge played McCourt as a teenager.[10] McCourt also authored 'Tis (1999), which continues the narrative of his life, picking up from the end of Angela's Ashes and focusing on his life after he returned to New York. He subsequently wrote Teacher Man (2005) which detailed his teaching experiences and the challenges of being a teacher.

McCourt was accused of greatly exaggerating his family's impoverished upbringing by many Limerick natives, including Richard Harris.[3][11] McCourt's own mother had denied the accuracy of his stories shortly before her death in 1981, shouting from the audience during a stage performance of his recollections that it was "all a pack of lies."[3] However, at the very least, many of his Stuyvesant High School students remembered quite clearly the mordant childhood anecdotes that he continually told during sessions of his senior-level Creative Writing (E7W-E8W) elective.[12]

McCourt wrote the book for a 1997 musical entitled The Irish… and How They Got That Way, which featured an eclectic mix of Irish music; everything from the traditional "Danny Boy" to U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."[13]


McCourt was a member of the National Arts Club and was a recipient of the Award of Excellence from The International Center in New York. In 1998, McCourt was honored as the Irish American of the Year by Irish America magazine. In 2002 he was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Western Ontario.

In October 2009, the New York City Department of Education, along with several partners from the community, founded the Frank McCourt High School of Writing, Journalism, and Literature, a screened-admissions public high school. The school is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on West 84th Street. The Frank McCourt School is one of four small schools designated to fill the campus of the former Louis D. Brandeis High School. The Frank McCourt High School began classes September 2010. The first principal of the school is Danielle Salzberg, who previously served as acting principal at Khalil Gibran International Academy and as an assistant principal at Millennium High School in New York. Among the many community partners of the Frank McCourt school are the Columbia Journalism School and Symphony Space.

The Frank McCourt Museum was officially opened by Malachy McCourt in July 2011 at Leamy House, Hartstonge Street, Limerick.[14] This Tudor-style building was formerly known as the Leamy School, the former school of Frank and his brother Malachy. The museum showcases the 1930s classroom of Leamy School and contains a collection of memorabilia, including items such as school books of the period and old photos, all donated by former pupils of the school. As well as having a large selection of Angela's Ashes memorabilia, the museum has recreated the McCourt home as described in the book using period pieces and props from the Angela's Ashes motion picture. The downstairs of the museum houses the Dr. Frank McCourt Creative Writing centre.[15]

Personal life

McCourt was married first, in August 1961 (divorced 1979), to Alberta Small, with whom he had a daughter, Margaret.[3] He married a second time in November 1984 (divorced 1989) to the psychotherapist Cheryl Floyd.[3] He married his third wife, Ellen Frey McCourt, in August 1994, and they lived in New York City and Roxbury, Connecticut.[3]

He was a passionate fan of baseball and the New York Mets. In his free time, McCourt took up the casual sport of rowing. He once sank his WinTech recreational single scull on the Mohawk River in Upstate New York, and had to be rescued by a local rowing team.

It was announced in May 2009 that McCourt had been treated for melanoma and that he was in remission, undergoing home chemotherapy.[16] On July 19, 2009, he died from the cancer, with meningeal complications,[1] at a hospice in Manhattan.[4]

His mother, Angela Sheehan McCourt, and father, Malachy Gerald McCourt, predeceased him in 1981 and 1985, respectively.


  • Angela's Ashes. A memoir. Scribner. 1996
  • 'Tis. A memoir. Scribner. 1999
  • Yeats Is Dead! A Mystery by 15 Irish Writers. Contributed a chapter. 2001
  • Teacher Man. A memoir. Scribner. 2005.
  • Frank McCourt; Loren Long (Illustrator) (2007). Angela and the Baby Jesus (Adult Edition). Scribner. ISBN 1416574700.
  • Frank McCourt; Raul Colon (Illustrator) (2007). Angela and the Baby Jesus: (Children's Edition). Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0545127820.
  • Frank McCourt; Malachy McCourt (2011). Couple of Blaguards, A. Samuel French. ISBN 978-0573699634.


  1. Grossman, Lev (19 July 2009). "Frank McCourt, 'Angela's Ashes' Author, Dies". TIME. Retrieved 4 April 2013. For most of his life, until he was well into his 60s, Frank McCourt wasn't a writer; he was a teacher. But it is as a writer, the author of the wildly successful memoir Angela's Ashes, that he will be remembered. He died on July 19 in New York of meningitis. He was 78 years old.
  2. McGreevy, Ronan. "The final indignity of Frank McCourt's 'shiftless alcoholic father'". The Irish Times.
  3. Telegraph "Frank McCourt " obituary. 20 July 2009
  4. Grimes, William (2009-07-19). "Frank McCourt, Whose Irish Childhood Illuminated His Prose, Is Dead at 78". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-08.
  5. "Frank McCourt on TVO (Mentioned at minute 9 of interview clip originally aired February 2006)". Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  6. McCourt, Frank (May 11, 1997). "Mothers Who Get By". Retrieved 2009-07-23.
  7. "The 1997 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Biography or Autobiography". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-12. With text from the book jacket and some other information.
  8. "All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists". Archived from the original on 2015-10-18. Retrieved 2013-11-12.
  9. "Angela's Ashes". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  10. "Angela's Ashes (1999) - IMDb"., Inc. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  11. John McEntee (December 25, 2011). "Bitter feud between fellow Limerick men over destiny of 'Angela's Ashes'". Irish Independent. Retrieved December 27, 2011.
  12. Claire Roxanne Wilner Willett, personal interview, 1 November 1998.
  13. Byrne, Terry (4 February 2013). "Frank McCourt's 'The Irish… and How They Got That Way' is a celebration - Theater & art - The Boston Globe". Frank McCourt's 'The Irish… and How They Got That Way' is a celebration - Theater & art - The Boston Globe. Retrieved 4 April 2013. The proceedings bear out a determination to set the record straight about the tragedy of the Great Famine, and evince a reverence for John F. Kennedy, a pride in iconic Irish-Americans George M. Cohan and James Cagney, and a humorous, slightly bitter attitude toward British oppression.
  14. "脱毛について – 脱毛について紹介します".
  15. "Frank McCourt museum opens in Limerick". 20 July 2011 via Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. 'Angela's Ashes' author Frank McCourt has cancer, USA Today, May 20, 2009, retrieved May 22, 2009

Michael McCourt obituary

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